Ever since Toyota Motor Philippines launched the Vios in 2003, the subcompact sedan has gone on to become a household name in the country. Today it's the best-selling Toyota model here followed by the Innova, Fortuner, and Hilux. There's a good reason for it too: it's a practical daily car that can take you from point A to point B and back without issue.
There is one thing the Vios could use though: it's not exactly an exciting car. It's not visually exciting for some nor is it particularly exciting to drive. Maybe the newly launched Vios GR-S can change all that.
Toyota is making a huge push to make Gazoo Racing or GR a popular brand like the one it effectively replaced: Toyota Racing Development or TRD. That's what GR is which is why you the GR Supra and the GR Yaris.
GR Sport is somewhat different. In the same way that BMW has M and M Sport, Toyota has GR and GR Sport; the sport is the "lite" version. And that's what brings us to the Vios GR-S or GR Sport.
That means I had to manage my expectation with the Vios GR-S. I’ve driven the Vios OMR cup car and it handled very well around Clark International Speedway. I can't expect the Vios GR-S to be somewhat the same. It's a road car after all.
The Vios GR-S is the newest addition to TMP's already vast Vios lineup. More importantly, it’s also the first GR Sport model in the country; both the GR Supra and GR Yaris are bonafide GR models in the same way that the M3 and M4 are proper BMW M cars.
Compared to other Vios variants it was unique, and it’s not because of the GR badging. Toyota gave the GR-S a major makeover both inside and out. The bumper is inspired by the GR Yaris, meaning it has a very aggressive look with a large center intake flanked by side vents to match.
The automaker didn’t add a lip kit and called it a day like the Vios Prime before; the GR-S also has side skirts, a revised rear bumper, and a ducktail spoiler. Chrome was ditched in favor of black accents all around, including the black 16-inch alloy wheels.
The color lends to the sedan’s aggressiveness as well. It’s a loud shade of red called Super Red V that can catch anybody's attention. Don't expect to find this shade available in standard Vios units as it's exclusive to the GR-S. But if you want something more subtle, the two other colors you can choose from are either Black or White Pearl (for an additional PHP 15,000).
So it looks good outside but that doesn't mean Toyota didn't spice things inside. The most obvious change would be the front seats. These are different from the ones on the standard Vios, and not just reupholstered with new stitching.
The seats secure your back and legs more, similar to sports seats. It’s not like the one in the GR Yaris or the GR Supra, but these do hold you in place slightly better. There are inserts of suede matched with leather, giving the Vios a very upscale feel. It's matched with red contrast stitching which can also be found on the siding and rear seats.
While the seats may look good, these are quite functional too. Driving around, the new sports seats on the GR-S seem to absorb the bumps better.
In front of the driver is a new leather steering wheel with matching red stitches and a GR-S exclusive cluster. I’m a fan of nice-looking gauge clusters and this one fits the bill. The blue accents have been replaced by red to match the rest of the interior. There’s also a new multi-function display that shows the GR logo on startup.
The touchscreen head unit is the same as what you’d find on a standard range-topping Vios. It is equipped with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The sound quality is adequate, but do remember this is still a Vios; we can’t expect audio quality similar to the Fortuner LTD’s JBL sound system. A reverse camera is standard along with reverse sensors making it easier to park in tight spaces.
The Vios GR-S uses the same 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine as standard. There’s no power or torque increase, and it still produces 107 PS and 140 Nm torque. Rather than increasing output, Toyota fitted a 10-speed CVT on the GR-S. There will be no manual transmission available, at least for the time being.
I did have reservations when Toyota announced that the GR-S is available with a CVT only, but after getting to drive it around, there is solid logic behind the move. Since it has 10 simulated gears, acceleration feels better. In sport mode, the “gear changes” are faster, and there’s noticeably less pedal lag when you put your foot down.
Don’t feel the need for speed? Keep it on normal or eco mode, and it drives just like a regular Vios. The 10-speed CVT works wonders here too. The RPM is kept relatively low because there are more "gears". This in turn makes it more fuel-efficient. During my time with the GR-S, I managed to average around 10.3 km/L in the city even while encountering grid-lock traffic. Mind you I wasn’t even trying to drive it efficiently. I wouldn’t be surprised if it could do 12 km/L or better, even with all the traffic in Metro Manila.
While it may look sportier, the GR-S handles very much the same as a standard Vios. You’ll have to take into consideration that the new bumpers and side skirts do make the car a bit lower. Those that have driven or ridden in a Vios before will feel right at home. The steering wheel isn’t heavy and responds easily to input. There’s no unnecessary body roll when quickly changing lanes or taking corners at speed either. Easy and safe to drive, just how a Vios should be.
Some might be wondering why the Philippine-spec Vios GR-S has a tall ride height compared to the one offered in Malaysia. That’s because the suspension is stock, unlike the Malaysian unit that comes with a “sport-tuned” suspension. Yes, we’re missing out, but there is an upside to it – the ride. Since the suspension is the same as a standard Vios, there's no difference in the ride of the GR-S. With the new seats, it's even more comfortable. Given the horrendous road conditions in the country, it would be understandable why the stiffer sports suspension wasn’t included by TMP. In addition, making the GR-S any lower could cause the bumpers to scrape all over the place.
The Vios GR-S is very much a fancier Vios with a lean and mean look; perfect for those that want something stylish, practical, and ready for everyday duties. Sounds good, right? But there is one problem – the price.
The GR-S is the most expensive model in the lineup and retails for PHP 1,020,000 or PHP 1,035,000 if in White Pearl. Some might say it would be crazy to pay over PHP 1 million a Vios. But if you look at the TMP's price list, it's just a PHP 50,000 increase over the Vios G. Considering that it comes with a body kit, new wheels, and a revised interior, it's not that bad. Look at the old Vios G Prime for example; TMP charged over PHP 50,000 for a lip kit alone.
Still, PHP 1,020,000 isn't easy to cough up. At that price, you could already afford the entry-level Corolla Altis with a manual transmission. Add a little bit more, and you’re looking at the Rush, Avanza, and the base Innova. But if you want something stylish and flashy to drive around town, then the Vios GR-S fits the bill.
We wish Toyota did offer a manual transmission option for the Vios GR-S. It would have made for a more exciting drive to match the mean look of the sedan. While an LSD, Brembo brakes are out the question, at the very least, TMP could have offered the sports suspension as an option. It might have lowered the car and made the ride stiffer, but it would translate to a more exciting drive. Isn't that what Toyota wants by pushing Gazoo Racing?